The former judge hired by Wisconsin Republicans to conduct an “investigation” into the 2020 election presented his “interim” findings on Tuesday and asserted that there were “significant grounds” for the state legislature to “decertify” the election — something that legal experts across Wisconsin and the country agree is not possible or appropriate.
The judge, Michael Gableman, spoke for more than three hours before the Assembly’s Committee on Campaigns and Elections in a presentation that featured videos of a lawyer pressing Americans in nursing homes on their capacity to vote in front of skeptical family members and allegations of a broad conspiracy by Democrats, state and local elections officials, and Jewish billionaires to defeat former president Donald Trump.
In the hearing and an accompanying 136-page interim report, Gableman did not definitively assert that the election was stolen but instead relied on a lot of inference and suggestion. The report’s introduction acknowledges as much, noting that it “draws no conclusions about specific, unauthorized outside interference or insider threats to machine voting, but it does provide numerous examples of security gaps that tend to enable bad actors to operate in the shadows.”
“Absent access to [election] systems, it would not be unfair for any citizens to conclude the worst, however,” the report continues.
Gableman said he has been unable to complete his investigation and report, despite seven months of work and $676,000 in taxpayer money, because he has not been able to get “any substantive witness” to cooperate. He said Tuesday that his office is involved in nine lawsuits challenging his subpoenas for interviews, documents, and information on voting equipment.
Gableman, who spoke at a Trump rally a few days after the 2020 election and suggested that the vote was stolen, insisted that his investigation was not a partisan effort, though he did acknowledge that he voted for Trump. The former state supreme court justice has engaged with pro-Trump election deniers during his investigation, including attending MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s “Cyber Symposium” and visiting the Republican-led audit in Arizona.
Trump encouraged “everyone who loves America” to watch the hearing in a statement Tuesday morning that praised Gableman as “highly respected.” His spokesperson Liz Harrington live-tweeted much of the hearing, echoing Gableman’s call to “decertify.”
Tuesday’s presentation centered largely on two popular conspiracy theories among the pro-Trump right. The first revolves around donations that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg made to the Center for Tech and Civic Life — a nonprofit organization that helped local jurisdictions across the US conduct an election during the middle of a pandemic; the false suggestion is that Zuckerberg and billionaire George Soros bought the election for Democrats. And the second deals with Wisconsin residents in nursing homes who allegedly voted in 2020, but whose children don’t believe they had the capacity to do so.
In defense of the latter theory, Gableman presented a series of video interviews in which a lawyer on his team either pressed older Americans in nursing homes on whether they understand how elections work or interviewed their adult children about their mental capacity while they sat silently in the background. Nursing home residents who were interviewed personally were also asked whether they would support a hypothetical candidate for office who wanted to raise taxes to create government health insurance, apparently as a test of their capacity to have voted. One woman in a brief clip did say that she was forced to vote, but Gableman did not elaborate.
The report states definitively that “rampant fraud and abuse occurred statewide at Wisconsin’s nursing homes,” but suggests that the state conduct an audit to determine its scope.
As the Democratic chair of Wisconsin’s bipartisan Elections Commission noted on Twitter, only a judge can prevent a person from voting, even if their competency is in question. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 abolished literacy tests by ensuring that being able to “demonstrate the ability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter” could not be a prerequisite to voting or registering to vote.
Rep. Jodi Emerson, a Democrat on the Campaigns and Elections Committee, got a bit emotional as she told Gableman that she had a family member who was going into memory care this week. “I would say that with this individual, if we were to do a video today, they would appear very different than they were in November of 2020,” she said. Emerson added that her relative’s immediate family members have different political opinions than they do.
Later in the hearing, Gableman struggled to answer questions from Republican Rep. Donna Rozar about how, if there was systemic voter fraud, Republicans down-ballot still won their elections and actually got more votes than Trump did. “If we don't legitimize the win at the top of the ticket, does that put all of us in jeopardy that we won? I don't know if that's a legitimate question or not, but then, do I have to worry that maybe I didn't win because there was some funky stuff going on or shenanigans?” she asked.
Gableman said he wasn’t able to get into that kind of “granular” detail, in part because elections officials didn’t answer his subpoenas.
Gableman’s suggestion that the Wisconsin legislature “decertify” the 2020 election — a growing rallying cry from Trump and his allies — comes after a Wisconsin Assembly Republican tried and failed to do so just a month ago. Wisconsin Rep. Timothy Ramthun’s decertification bill did not get a vote in the Assembly and was sent by Republican leadership to committee to die. Ramthun’s bill did succeed, however, in getting the attention of Trump who is reportedly backing Ramthun’s campaign for governor.
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, a Republican who is retiring at the end of the year, tweeted Tuesday that he will “do everything possible to stop any effort, to put politicians in charge of deciding who wins or loses elections.” Speaker Robin Vos, who hired Gableman, did not respond to a request for comment.
When Vos first started the 2020 election investigation, under intense pressure from Trump and his supporters, he insisted that its focus wasn’t on trying to undo the 2020 election, but on providing a rationale for passing election reforms through the legislature this year. Gableman’s report, however, came too late for that. As Democratic Rep. Mark Spreitzer noted during the hearing, Vos passed a few election-related bills last week — which would not survive a veto from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers — and the Assembly is unlikely to meet again this session.
Gableman told legislators Tuesday that he is planning to continue his investigation, but that the status of his contract with Vos is “complicated” and they are “going back and forth on the terms and the scope of the continued contract.” Vos did not respond to a request for comment on the contract.
“I believe that I do have a continuing contract through the rendering of services,” Gableman said. “Others take the position that my authority ran out at the end of December of ‘21.”
Evers called Gableman’s investigation “an increasingly dangerous and ongoing threat to our democracy” in a statement. “Any mere condemnation of this effort rings hollow — it has to end. Enough is enough. Republicans in the Legislature have always had the ability to end this effort, and I call on them to do so today,” he said.
But Gableman said he plans to continue his investigation with or without legislative backing, telling lawmakers, “I'm going to keep going and whether anyone signs a contract or not, I can do it on my own.”